WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP | Lauren Schmidt had a good job as a physical therapist and was earning $50,000 a year, when she learned that childcare costs for her two kids would take a huge bite out of her budget.
“Money adds up more than I thought it would,” she said.
Schmidt is really an eighth-grader at Victory Christian Academy and was among 1,000 students at the Porter County Expo Center on Tuesday for Envision the Future -- a simulation that teaches the financial costs of life.
Sponsored by the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce, the game has students project themselves to age 28 and choose a career and whether they will be single or married with/without kids. They receive a salary based on their profession and receive a checkbook they take to stations where they pay their monthly bills.
The goal is for students to learn how to live within their means, and how their success in school determines their future job, income level and lifestyle, said Kurt Gillins, programs director with the chamber.
“The better grades you get, the better job you can get,” he said.
More than 120 volunteers representing 60 local businesses manned stations where students paid for such items as taxes, housing, utilities, transportation, childcare, insurance, food and clothing.
Joel Fabugais, with Pines Village Retirement Community, helped the kids decide what cable, phone and Internet service to buy.
“You're an engineer, so I'm pretty sure you'll want Internet at your house,” he told one student.
Fabugais, volunteering at the event for the first time, said he wanted to help the kids make wise choices.
“It's about how much you make and how much you should spend based on what you make,” he said.
Students next visited the “unexpected events” table, where they drew slips of paper representing surprises in life that people can't always plan for, such as losing a job, an illness, a divorce or inheriting money.
Final stops included stations for the legal, financial, mental health, employment or education issues that arose from the unexpected events.
While some eighth-graders had to declare bankruptcy at the end, others -- such as Brandon Brychell -- came away with money to spare.
Brychell, a student at Immanuel Lutheran School, was an electrician, married with no kids, who made nearly $43,000 a year.
Despite splurging on a luxury car with a monthly payment of $742, he had more than a $1,000 left at the end of the exercise.
“It was fun,” Brychell said. “I thought I was going to have no money left, but I do.”